Nine radical ways to make sure your employees get a break

Posted by | December 10, 2019 | Employers, Retention

Nine radical ways to make sure your employees get a break


The weeks between Christmas and mid-January in New Zealand can feel a bit like a countrywide holiday (unless you work in hospitality!). This fabulous mix of Christmas, New Years and (fingers-crossed) glorious sun-filled days, creates a bumper holiday season. It’s typical, even in the do-good space, to shut down the computers and skip town, switching the office for the outdoors. 

Holiday breaks are essential. They are proven productivity boosters, provide space for a mental health refresh, and actually help decrease mistakes. Yet, a Glassdoor survey in 2017 showed 2 out of 3 adults report working when on vacation!

As an employer, how can you help your staff truly disconnect on holiday? I’ve pulled together a few of my fave – slightly more radical ideas – and hope that it gives you inspiration to support your staff over the upcoming Summer holidays, and for future breaks…

#1. Go dark

Follow in the footsteps of Brian Scudamore, CEO of O2E Brands, who introduced a “go dark” policy that calls on all employees at his company to completely disconnect from work while on vacation.

That means NO calling the office or checking emails when they’re supposed to be relaxing or going on adventures.  For his own vacations, Scudamore has an assistant change all his passwords – email and social media included – so he’s not tempted to check in. He encourages his staff (and you) to do the same. Read more here.

#2. Practice what you preach 

If you hold a managerial role and are responding to emails throughout holidays, so will employees. When you are out of office, practice what you preach and make sure your email notifications are off, your Slack is snoozed, and you’re taking the time to recharge so you can be the best leader you possibly can be. Set expectations around what constitutes an “emergency” if the dire need arises.


#3. Pay people to take vacations

A few companies — especially those trying to lure hard-working (and hard-to-recruit) tech employees — have been paying people to go on holiday! I dream about seeing this in the for-purpose world as a way to support our overworked, underpaid and stressed-to-the-max talent.

The CEO of Acceleration Partners, pays his staff a bonus to stay offline during holidays.  You heard me right! A bonus for taking a break. Here’s why they do it, and why it works. Meanwhile, the software company Evernote offers employees an extra $1,000 stipend if they take a full week away from work. It’s a way of signaling to employees that it really wants people to take that time off.

As CEO of Full Contact, Brad Lorang, wrote there’s often a hero syndrome in startups (and I would add for-purpose organisations!) where employees think they’re the last line of defense. Brad writes

That’s not heroic. That’s a single point of failure. It’s not good for the employee or the company… If people know they will be disconnecting and going off the grid for an extended period of time, they might actually keep that in mind as they help build the company.

Like documenting processes better, empowering direct reports and contributing to share knowledge. Full blog post here.

#4. Holiday bonus

I read somewhere that it takes you at least 3-4 days to unwind from work before you can start to really relax on holiday. How can you help your staff unwind faster? How about offering a massage voucher, or half a day in the work week before they go on holiday to get their chores off their to-do lists. Or what about a team subscription to a meditation app, or similar? 



#5. Chain up the doors

Unless you are an emergency service, lock up the gates to your office over Christmas and New Years. Make it a mandatory holiday (heck, if you want to go to the next level, make it an extra week of paid holiday that you include as a perk in your employment contracts). Yes, there may be a cost, but how much work do you think your employees can actually get done over this time?

The period between Christmas and New Year is the one time of year you are almost guaranteed that here in NZ almost everyone is on holiday and business is likely to be slow. For me,  I know this is the ONE time of year I can put my out-of-office on and stay away from my emails for at least a week – fingers crossed longer if I am lucky.

TED, the conference and media company, has an enforced team break – where they all down tools at the same time for two weeks over summer and a one-week break during the Christmas holiday. This coordinated, team wide approach to holiday time makes the company more efficient, and also rested. Media executive producer June Cohen told Fast Company 

Most of us would feel too guilty to even take two weeks off if it weren’t pre-planned for us…This creates an enforced rest period, which is so important for both productivity and happiness.

#6. Keep tech in the office

Following on from locking the doors, lock up the tech! Richard Sherida, CEO or a small software company called Menlo Innovations, keeps his employees’ work week at 40 hours by limited technology use outside the office. You can’t take work home with you, and the company intentionally does not offer tools for remote work. No laptops, no private networks or server access. You could take this stance with holidays too – I envisage a ceremony of people handing in their laptops and work phones, in exchange for sunglasses and flip-flops.


#7. Archive all

Taking a page from the Non-Profit Happy Hour I follow (an offshoot of unicorns from, they temporarily archive their facebook group every weekend, or over public holidays to ensure that everyone in the sector gets the weekends off. While you can read threads, you can’t comment.

What can you archive in your business to stop discussions and new threads popping up over the holidays? Slack, Asana, Emails and more.

Put up messages on social media platforms, your own website and archive any facebook groups you might manage. Make a note you want staff to have a proper break.

#8. Auto delete 

Each time I go on holiday I diligently put on my out-of-office, tell people I won’t be responding to their email until I am back… and then continue to answer and respond to emails, even the non-urgent ones (face-palm)…. Hands up if you fall in this category too?

Even if management sets a policy to say “Don’t email a colleague who’s on holiday”, people still do it.  Yes, it’s a behavioural problem to work on to change our own behaviours, but how about this for a simple solution:  German automaker Daimler has implemented a “Mail on Holiday” email policy that ensures staff take full advantage of their time off, without dreading the exploding inbox waiting for their return. Employees have the option to set their emails to auto-delete while away from the office. Their out of office says this person’s on vacation so we’ve deleted your email. It lets the sender know this person will never see the email that was sent, and to email back in a couple of weeks, or to email someone else if it’s urgent. 

If you want to set up something similar, you can set up a simple filter to send all those messages to the trash after your out-of-office message — just make sure you warn the sender in your auto-reply that you will never see it.

#9. If it’s urgent, call my Mum

Here’s one more tip to get off the grid I loved in a forum I just read:

I give my management my mother’s phone number and tell them that if it is really so urgent, they can explain the situation to my mum, and she knows how to reach me. Oddly enough, no one has ever tried to contact me while I’m on vacation, even though my mum is super nice.”



Well, there you go. Some pretty good – and some slightly radical ways – to help your staff take some breaks this holiday. Some of these require very little in the way of cash, and yes, others might require an investment you might LOL’ing about on a for-purpose budget, but how much are you willing to pay for disengaged, exhausted staff?  I encourage you to adopt just one (or more if you like!) for this coming holiday. Let me know how it goes! 

I have already got my two faves locked in. I’m going dark, but if you REALLY need me over the holiday, you can always call my Mum!

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